World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates: IPB for a nuclear-free world

24 April, 2012

Ingeborg Breines, IPB co-president, participated in the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. She delivered a speech during  the discussion on “A world without nuclear weapons”.

Nuclear weapons are devastatingly dangerous for human beings, and potentially for all life on the planet. Their use in warfare would be politically, morally, legally, ecologically and economically unacceptable. The International Court of Justice ruled the use of nuclear weapons to be illegal already in 1996 – a result of the worldwide campaign run by IPB and other NGOs – and a majority of countries, organizations and people are in favor of their complete elimination. Nevertheless, many governments, wrongly considering themselves powerful because of their nuclear capacity, would however say, “just not yet”. However, both civil society and governmental initiatives now urge nuclear weapons states to prepare to sign, and implement, a total ban on nuclear weapons. A realistic deadline for such an agreement could be by 2020.

Beyond the devastating blast and fire effects of nuclear explosions, the human costs of nuclear radiation released even in non-military contexts are alarming. They may be difficult to measure, but the rise in cancers and immune system diseases is extremely worrying, and not only in the vicinity of sites of nuclear testing, uranium mining, nuclear arms production, nuclear power plants or waste disposal. Nuclear radiation and the spread of contamination through air, water and earth respect no borders, with potentially vast negative impacts, not only in the country possessing nuclear power, but in neighboring countries as well.

In addition, the extensive use of human brainpower for the development, maintenance and “modernization” of nuclear arms is a detrimental waste of human resources, which could otherwise be freed for creative and productive work.

The financial costs of nuclear arms are unacceptable in a world suffering an acute financial crisis and unable, or unwilling, to cater to the basic needs of people for survival, social security and human development. Of the estimated more than 1.7 trillion dollars a year devoted to military purposes (SIPRI report 2012) only 10 – 20 % would be enough to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed by all world leaders and to be met by 2015. The estimated annual total for the production, development and maintenance of nuclear weapons by the 9 nuclear-possessing nations is around 100 billion dollars (See e.g. Nuclear Weapons: At What Cost? IPB, 2009 – updated version soon to be published, 2012)

Establish a convention against nuclear weapons. There is an urgent need for a global, comprehensive disarmament strategy, including the elimination of the more than 20,000 existing nuclear warheads and a ban on production of any further such weapons. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and other partial treaties in relation to testing, inspection etc of nuclear facilities would then be replaced by a comprehensive verifiable treaty, similar to the conventions against biological and chemical weapons.

Banning nuclear power

After the disaster at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011, the world has once again come to realize the danger of nuclear power, after years of denial and attempts by the nuclear industry and its political allies to convince the general public of the necessity, cheapness and safety of this form of energy. The NPT, and its triad of nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful use of nuclear energy, was signed before the disasters of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. However, already in 1968 it was clear that there was no safe way of storing nuclear waste, and it should have been understood that natural and man-made disasters do happen; also that any country possessing plutonium or uranium might be tempted to deceive the international community and to use it for weapons — as long as that is seen as a sign of strength and power. While some nuclear weapon states have made important reductions in their arsenals since the end of the Cold War, they show no commitment to full nuclear disarmament and are not good role models for countries with nuclear ambitions. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has a most ambiguous dual role: both actively promoting nuclear power and at the same time seeing that it is not used for military purposes. Its purpose should be changed to that of an agency for overseeing and controlling the global elimination of nuclear energy in all forms. We have sufficient knowledge of the deadly dangers of nuclear power, even from so-called ‘peaceful uses’, and even in highly industrialized countries, to make a convincing case, not only for a nuclear weapons-free world, but for a nuclear-free world.

Strategies and actions

A host of actions and initiatives are being taken to end the nuclear era. It is, however, a challenge to bring about a sufficiently powerful movement of citizens to persuade politicians to take urgent action. The following list of strategies and actions that need to be supported – above all with the engagement of young people – may be helpful:

– Urge all states to make special efforts to establish the necessary multilateral framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons;

– Urge the nuclear weapons states to take unilateral steps to reduce and eliminate all their nuclear weapons;

– Urge civil society movements, not least young people, in favor of nuclear disarmament to demand that their respective governments press for the start of negotiations on a convention banning nuclear weapons forever, in line with the five-point proposal of the UN Secretary-General.

– Mobilize public opinion to call for the abolition of nuclear power, stressing the links between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

– Support e.g. the Mayors for Peace organization which calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020; the Non-Aligned Movement which presses for convening an international conference to identify ways and means to eliminate nuclear weapons without any further delay; the umbrella groupings Abolition 2000 and International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) demanding the start of negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention, the inter-governmental conference planned for Finland later this year to discuss steps towards a zone in the Middle East free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction; and the just announced conference in Norway next year, which will tackle the humanitarian aspects of nuclear arms.

– Use the opportunity of the NATO summit here in Chicago in less than a month to draw world attention to NATO’s nuclear strategy and to urge the member states to change NATO’s nuclear posture, its reliance on nuclear weapons, its first strike doctrine and its policy of basing nuclear weapons even in non-nuclear countries, such as in certain European states.

IPB initiatives

Nuclear disarmament is an integral part of IPB’s main project Disarmament for Development. In addition, IPB is advocating for a world without the threat of nuclear power.

IPB is part of many other international networks and cooperates with other international and national campaigns for a nuclear weapon and power-free world.

IPB has taken the initiative, together with Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament and in cooperation with some other Nobel Peace laureates, to organize a Nobel Peace Laureates’ tour to some nuclear countries for political talks on disarmament, based on the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Declaration of Nobel Peace Laureates of 2010. We hope to be able to further concretize these plans whilst at the Summit. Next week, during the first PrepCom of the next NPT Review Conference in 2015, IPB will hold two workshops in Vienna entitled “The costs of nuclear weapons: a Disarmament for Development perspective” and “The role of science in nuclear and military-related research and technology”. IPB will join INES (scientists) and IALANA (lawyers) in organizing a seminar on the role of the IAEA and will discuss strategies for nuclear disarmament with colleagues in the Middle Powers Initiative (MPI). IPB will also jointly open a photo-exhibition on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the University of Vienna, together with the Japan Council against A and H Bombs (Gensuikyo) and the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bombs Sufferers’ Organizations (Hidankyo). A-bombs sufferers will speak of their stories and collect signatures for the “Appeal for a total ban on nuclear weapons”. IPB will also present in Vienna a newly-updated version of the book: Nuclear Weapons: At What Cost? (IPB, 2009 – see above), which will be finalized later this year. The book will be used for knowledge-sharing and advocacy and will provide a factual basis for challenging nuclear governments and private investors as to their misplaced priorities.